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NAC as a supplement has many uses and can help people with a diverse set of issues, including mood disorders, brain issues, lung problems, sleep disorders, infections, and in states of oxidative stress.  It can even help protect you from the flu. Here we list 28 health benefits of N-Acetyl Cysteine as well as the possible side effects of taking it.

Introduction

N-Acetyl Cysteine, also known as NAC, is an altered version of Cysteine. Cysteine is an amino acid containing sulfur.

NAC is essential in replenishing and maintaining Glutathione levels in the body [R]. Glutathione is an antioxidant that removes oxygen radicals from cells [R].

The removal of these reactive species is important because they will cause cellular and tissue damage if they are allowed to remain in cells. NAC has also been found to reduce inflammation in tissues [R].

NAC not only can be ingested into the body orally but also through inhalation. As seen below, the supplement can be used for many different purposes.

NAC Snapshot

Pros

  • Good for reducing glutamate toxicity
  • Good for OCD and Bipolar
  • Helps prevent the flu
  • Great antioxidant
  • Great biofilm disruptor
  • Increases the master antioxidant – Glutathione
  • Improves Fertility
  • Good for a diverse array of conditions

Cons

  • Can negate some of the benefits of exercise
  • Doesn’t taste good and can cause a bit of nausea or stomach upset
  • May negate cancer-killing properties of chemotherapy

Health Benefits of N-Acetyl Cysteine

1) NAC Helps Protect Against Liver Damage

Many commonly used painkiller medications such as Tylenol and Vicodin contain a substance called Acetaminophen [R].

If taken in high quantities, Acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver and can cause liver failure. N-Acetyl Cysteine is commonly used to treat liver failure due to Acetaminophen and greatly increases the patient’s chances of survival.

NAC has also been shown to effectively treat liver failure caused by other factors such as excessive alcohol consumption or environmental pollutants [R].

2) NAC Fights Against Cellular Oxidative Damage

Oxygen radicals will cause oxidative damage that is detrimental to cells and their DNA [R].

By replenishing Glutathione where it is needed in the body, NAC helps fight against oxygen radicals and in turn, prevents cellular damage. This can be especially helpful if cells have been exposed to lead [R].

3) NAC Helps Prevent and Treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a lung disease caused by long-term oxidative damage to important lung tissues [R]. This damage results in inflammation of the lung tissue. The inflammation causes airways to become smaller leading to shortness of breath and cough.

By replenishing Glutathione in the lungs, NAC works to decrease oxidative damage and tissue damage [R]. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of developing COPD [R, R].

The main form of treatment of COPD involves Oxygen Therapy. This involves giving the patient extra oxygen so that normal Oxygen levels can be obtained from the blood [R].

However, this extra oxygen also counterproductively increases the production of toxic oxygen radicals [R]. The introduction of NAC will decrease the concentration of these radicals and will help improve treatment efficiency.

4) NAC Helps Treat Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis is caused by the inflammation of the bronchial tubes [R]. This inflammation is often caused by oxidation damage. Chronic bronchitis causes a cough and mucus buildup in the lungs.

NAC will reduce symptoms in patients with chronic bronchitis by acting to reduce radicals in the bronchial tubes [R].

5) NAC May Help Treat HIV

HIV is a disease that causes the failure of the bodies’ immune response. High levels of NAC in the body can help prevent the reproduction of one strain of HIV, HIV-1 [R]. This suggests that cells with high NAC levels may be able to resist HIV infection.

NAC may be a good supplement to take for subjects who are HIV+ and are taking other medications.

6) NAC Can Reduce Pain and Inflammation

Along with reducing oxidative damage in tissues, NAC can work to decrease inflammation in tissues. NAC decreases the amount of many different inflammatory molecules present in the body [R].

Reduction of inflammation can relieve symptoms of different diseases or reduce the risk of developing different diseases. NAC also reduces inflammation after vigorous exercise, which allows for people to perform these exercises without too much soreness.

NAC reduces neuropathic pain by suppressing matrix metalloproteinases [R].

7) NAC May Help Prevent Cancer

NAC has been shown to help prevent multiple forms of cancer through a few different mechanisms.

Importantly, NAC has been shown to cause cell death in cancer cells as well as stopping these cells from replicating in stomach cells [R, R].

It has also been discovered that NAC decreases the amount of cancer signaling molecules in the body, which in turn decreases the cancers ability to grow and spread [R].

Ionizing radiation is often used to kill cancer cells. However, this radiation can often lead to more cancers developing in healthy cells through DNA damage [R].

NAC protects healthy cells from damage while allowing for cell death in cancer cells. This reduces the risk of developing other cancers while ionizing radiation is used.

However, some studies show that NAC doesn’t go well with some cancer therapies.  Speak to your doctor before taking NAC if you’re taking chemotherapy.

8) NAC Can Reduce Insulin Resistance

NAC has been shown to decrease insulin resistance in obese subjects.

High blood sugar and obesity can cause inflammation in fat tissue. This inflammation begins a signaling pathway that ultimately leads to the destruction of insulin receptors [R].

The destruction leads to diabetes 2 in obese subjects. NAC has been shown to reduce inflammation in fat cells. This means that fewer insulin receptors are destroyed and cells become more sensitive to insulin [R]. This reduces the risk of developing diabetes 2.

9) NAC Can Protect From the Flu

NAC has been shown to reduce symptoms of flu as well as protect from the flu. NAC decreases the body’s inflammatory response when the flu develops in a subject. This reduces symptoms experienced by that subject.

NAC also reduces the ability of the flu virus to replicate in cells [R]. Without the ability to replicate quickly, the virus is often fought off before it develops.

One study showed that older adults taking NAC only developed the flu 25% of the time while a population of the same age not taking NAC developed the flu 79% of the time.

10) NAC Can Help Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that slows down subjects’ learning and memory abilities.

Studies have shown that NAC may work to slow or negate the loss of cognitive ability in mouse models of Alzheimer’s [R].

Patients with Parkinson’s disease who supplement with NAC experience notable improvements in dopamine function and symptoms.

11) NAC Can Help Negate the Effects 0f Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is characterized by failure to understand reality and abnormal social behaviors.

NAC can work to possibly minimize negative effects of schizophrenia [R].

A primate-specific gene locus G72 is linked to the development of these diseases by enlarging synapses in the brain.

When mice were treated with NAC, their synapses were normalized, indicating that NAC can play a part in helping with mental illnesses [R].

12) NAC Can Prevent Addictive Behaviors

Addictive behaviors include binge eating, drug addictions, and other compulsive behaviors. NAC can reduce or eliminate these behaviors in rodent models [R].

A systematic review found that NAC helps people with addictions, especially cocaine and cannabis. Behaviors such as hair pulling or nail biting can also be prevented using NAC [R].

The effects were mediated by normalizing the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate [R].

13) NAC Can Prevent Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Depression and bipolar disorder are severe conditions that are becoming more prevalent in our world today.

Symptoms caused by these disorders can be significantly improved by taking NAC. NAC can also help in improving people’s ability to function while experiencing these symptoms [R].

14) NAC Can Prevent Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD causes social anxiety and compulsive behaviors. NAC can help with treatment in severe cases of OCD [R].

15) NAC Improves Intestinal Barrier Function

Treatment with NAC can help protect the intestines in cases where bacterial growth takes hold in rats. NAC will also defend against oxidative injury, thereby improving barrier function [R].

16) NAC Enhances Bone Regeneration

NAC helps with enhancing bone growth and regeneration. It activates osteoblastic differentiation by interacting with other bone markers such as collagen and osteopontin [R].

NAC quickens mineralization and thus increases the rate of bone growth [R].

17) NAC Can be a Treatment for Sleep Disorders

NAC could help treat patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder where a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

Patients who took daily doses of NAC had improved sleep efficiency and snored less than those who took a placebo (RCT).

Oral NAC administration appears to be a potential treatment for sleep apnea [R].

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18) NAC can be Used as Treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disease that causes problems with periods and difficulties getting pregnant.

Clomiphene citrate (CC), a drug that is used to treat the disease, only seems to work in 60-85% of women.

NAC can possibly be used as an alternative treatment for the disease [R].

19) NAC May Possibly Help ALS

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a nervous system disease that causes loss of voluntary muscle use. The disease is not curable.

NAC may possibly help ALS patients.  In cell cultures, NAC prevents the degeneration of neuron cells [R].

20) NAC May Increase Survival Rate in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure

Chronic heart failure (CHF) causes fatigue and exercise intolerance in muscles.

NAC has been shown to improve these symptoms by decreasing inflammation and oxidative damage in the muscles [R]. This, in turn, increases the survival rate of patients with CHF.

21) NAC Could Increase Survival Rates in Patients Suffering From Heart Attacks

Patients suffering from heart attacks have less adverse cardiac events following the attack if given NAC.

Patients given NAC have also on average been able to leave the hospital earlier due to a quick and speedy recovery [R].

22) NAC Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is often caused by oxidative damage to heart tissue [R]. This can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and other severe consequences.

NAC can reduce this oxidative damage and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in subjects [R].

23) NAC May Help in Recovering From Brain Injury

Brain injuries can be caused by drug overdoses, cerebral ischemia (not enough blood flow to the brain), brain trauma, or other reasons.

Brain injuries can cause loss of cognitive function and memory. NAC can act to help recover from these incidences and can help subjects regain their memory and cognition [R].

24) NAC May Decrease Risk of Kidney Disease

Oxidative stress in the kidneys can cause kidney disease and kidney failure. NAC can act as a protector against oxidative stress in the kidney and in this way prevent kidney failure (rats) [R].

25) NAC Improves Fertility

Almost 15% of all couples trying to conceive are affected by infertility, and in almost half of these cases, male infertility is the sole or a contributing factor [R].

NAC in some, but not all, studies improves sperm quality [R].

NAC can also help fertility in women with PCOS [R] and unexplained pregnancy loss [R].

NAC Side Effects & Cautions

NAC seems to be a safe substance with very few known long-term side effects.

However, the supplement may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation when ingested orally. Nausea more commonly occurs if taken on an empty stomach.

The supplement can also cause drowsiness, mouth swelling, or clamminess if inhaled.

NAC does have a disagreeable smell that makes it hard to take in. NAC should be taken with food, at any time, but preferably in the morning.

NAC can irritate the stomach lining if taken on an empty stomach.

NAC has anticoagulant and platelet-inhibiting properties [R], so precaution should be taken in the following situations:

  • Bleeding disorders
  • Surgery – as a result of increased risk of bleeding during and after surgery. Stop taking N-acetyl cysteine at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Blood-thinning medication – if you are already taking blood thinners, consult with your doctor.

N-acetyl cysteine is similar to cysteine found in food, so low dosages of the supplement (500mg) are likely safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, there is not enough reliable information to be sure that NAC is safe.

NAC (12 mg/kg/day) increased age-dependent blood-brain barrier breakdown in rats with high blood pressure and that are prone to strokes. It also increased the number of amyloid beta plaques in the cortex (an area of the brain) but did not change the amyloid deposits in the other parts of the brain studied (basal ganglia, hippocampus, thalamus, and corpus callosum) [R].

In a similar study, rats (with high blood pressure and that are prone to strokes) given NAC (12 mg/kg/day) had more microbleeds and blood vessels with blood-brain-barrier-disturbances than the control group. However, the treatment also reduced the number of blood clots and the occurrence of tissue death from lack of blood [R].

NAC Dosage

A maximum dose of NAC has yet to be determined. However, taking between 800mg-1,800mg of NAC is usually recommended if you have a condition.

For general health purposes, 600mg a day is sufficient.

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That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

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45 COMMENTS

  • Marie

    I’m getting this for my husband and his friend does anyone know if it does help with addition to ice.. my husband needs some type of help an im.starrimg with this any ideas. Thank you

  • Maggie

    Can anyone recommend what dosage to take? I have it in crystal form

  • Joan

    I’ve been taking NAC twice per day recommended by my naturopth. However, it has made my urine very light in color and in the morning my first urine is crystal clear no color. I am worried that my kidneys are not filtering right. Does anyone know why this would be happening? I am certain it has something to do with N A C as I did not experience this before.

  • Darren

    Hi can anyone give me more information and there experiences about taking nac for gambling addiction? thankyou

  • Jerry

    Has anyone with Muscular Dystrophy taken? If so how did it affect you?

  • claude roy

    would NAC help my COPD

  • Barbara

    I took my first NAC 600mg pill right after breakfast and WOW did I get a buzz. Heart was doing a happy dance, short of breath. Scared the bejesus out of me. What might the problem be?????

  • linda

    i am allergic to penicillin and sulfer. Can I take NAC

  • Brian Kerner

    Will NAC help alleviate the pain and discomfort in severe Neuropathy in the feet?

  • Rob Allen

    I am pain free first time in 30 years I have severe back
    pain (all gone) blood pressure lower cough gone depression
    gone anxiety gone OCD gone all addictions gone

    I now feel that the medical community lied about what
    medicine they said I needed went to doctor today he
    could not believe my numbers from blood pressure to kidney liver every number from my blood work was perfect and
    when I told him I was on no meds he just shook his head
    I’m 62 and before this I was headed down heel super stiff
    back high sugar blood pressure out of wack blood numbers
    all of my conditions are gone one plus year now no side effects
    I take 600 twice a day it’s a miracle and lately I feel way
    younger I can now run up 10 flights of stairs at full speed
    I can ride a bike again jog my sex life way better this supplement
    has completely changed my life!!

  • Upasana

    Is n acetyl helpful in treating brain fog and what is the dosage to be taken , for how long?

  • Håkon Martin NIlsen Bjerke

    I dont have any problems with upset stomach from NAC myself, just try and see before looking for other solutions..

  • Cathia

    Thanks for covering this. Would you please update to include details about NAS and endometriosis (example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662115/)? Thanks again.

  • Carolyn Miller

    Is it gluten free

  • Rob

    Agreed: it’s the first thing I take if I come down with any chest congestion; it helps move it up into my head, which is easier to treat than the chest area.

  • Cathrin Leth

    If it can upset the stomach so much, would it be possible to put it in a bit of water or oil, to dissolve it, and put it on the skin for absorbtion?

  • higgledie piggledie

    Wow – great detailed informative comment from Matthew with some concerns on the downsides.
    Can we get Joseph to go through this and other concerns raised and provide a detailed response on if these concerns are valid, if not why not, and if so how to manage them?
    To me the value of coming to a site like this would be to address these questions in an informative manner……

  • Dr. Mike

    While I agree, I found that once inflammation is running amok, as with many chronic diseases like my RA, I can take 500 mg a day of it with no negative problems. In fact I take a massive cocktail of OTC products like NAC that saved my life the last 3 years. My RA factor is not measurable. Only issue I had to address was to cut to back anything that reduced blood clotting or thins my blood. That was a fascinating google search and iterative process for me. Many (most?) of the anti inflammation products, even some common foods also act as mild blood thinners, which is bad if you bruise or leak hemoglobin easily through the capillaries or have leaky gut (Like I did)!!! Ever looked at Fentons reagent (Iron) use as a free radical initiator? As in iron from Hemoglobin leaking into joints and muscles!!!

  • Dr. Mike

    Awesome comments, I have been taking 500 mg/day for about 2+ years. I am thinking of doubling the dose, 12 hours apart now after getting back up to speed on what all it does. Fighting just RA now (RA factor is off the charts), but was fighting 5 illness at once 3 years ago, Hyperthyroid, Bronchitis from hell, Off the charts lab test for RA, lost 80 lbs in 12 weeks, could barely move, every muscle in my body was on fire, bruised easily, Gall bladder stones from hell, and all sorts of blood and liver numbers out of whack. This was, is one of about 30 supplements that got me back on my feet, in my 60s. It has never given me any problems. But every person and their health, and issues are unique! I also take l-Glutamine, a lot of it!!!

  • Matthew

    I’m really not sure about NAC. The creation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), often portrayed as bad and one of the reasons why we need plenty of antioxidants, is a crucial biochemical stressor that upregulates autophagy and induces apoptosis, an important process in cancer and many chronic diseases. Indeed, many of the benefits conferred by nutraceuticals that inhibit TOR and activate AMPK do so, in part, through ROS-mediated mechanisms. NAC certainly, as well as concentrated doses of vitamin E I believe, has the unfortunate effect of negating these effects due to extremely potent scavenging abilities.

    That said, excessive ROS isn’t good either so obviously a balance needs to be struck. Personally, if NAC was to be used it would seem prudent to take it away from nutraceuticals who’s benefits come, at least in part, through such ROS-mediated mechanisms. Indeed, the remark in the article on taking it every other day seems a good one as you would be mopping up ROS to keep levels in check but not overly inhibiting key processes on a daily basis.

    Personally, I try to focus on optimising methylation to ensure the endogenous synthesis of cysteine is what it should be, along a raft of other benefits. I like to think that if that system is working correctly then the body will be able to make its own glutathione in the correct amounts as and when it needs to. Incidentally, on this remark, it’s interesting to note that high inflammation levels as brought on by disease has been shown to cause significant tissue-specifc depletion in such things as vitamin B6. Of course, such depletion could handicap methylation, inhibit glutathione synthesis and further immune dysfunction as a result. So maybe B vitamins, especially in active forms, along with some other cofactors are necessary in greater amounts during times of significant inflammation to bring this system in to balance.

  • Betty

    Has anyone with MS taken NAC and had good results ? I would love to hear back from you.

  • Philip Blake

    It’s 50/50. It can also cause diarrea.

  • Lacey

    Prune concentrate, helps my son. It’s natural and very effective. Play w the doce. It’s thick and highly concentrated. Helps with my son a lot.

  • Anne Doney

    I have constipation from codeine. I intend to reduce the codeine. I understand that NAC encourages constipation. Is this true? How can I get the benefits of NAC without constipation?

  • argo

    You’ve to be careful about the excipients added to commercial brand of NAC: for example toxic sweeteners as aspartame are often included.

  • Erin Price

    It was my understanding that is mobilizes mercury out of storage and it circulates to brain and causes mercury toxicity symptoms.

  • Erin Price

    I became convinced it was mobilizing mercury (in my body leached from dental amalgam). Perhaps that was not the cause but I felt dizzy foggy nauseous tired…just gross. Had to stop it

  • An-Marie

    N-acetyl-cysteine attenuates neuropathic pain by suppressing matrix metalloproteinases : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27075430?dopt=Abstract

  • Nejc

    NAC and alpha lipic acid do cause autoimmune insulin syndrome in genetically prone people. Please add in cons.

  • Ericsson Williams

    Hello, I experienced intestinal issues for a few days but it went away. I take Jarrow Sustain 600mg NAC, and I take my dose mid-day. I don’t eat for a few hours after my dose. It says to take it on a empty stomach but I don’t like to take anything on a empty stomach.

    Wishing you the best,
    EW

  • Marcela

    Following Dr Hahns infectious asthma protocol, I was able to eliminate my asthma attacks, dpendency on inhaled glucocorticoids in 2011. NAC was invaluable during this time while dealing with a herx reaction. I don’t take it daily, but if I feel my chest tightening or a cold coming, it’s my go to supplement.

  • Michael (NW)

    Hi, I started taking N-A-C @ 500mg before bed to help with sleep. It seems to help. But… I’m trying to figure out why I have IBS like symptoms such as very soft stools with cramping in the mornings. I tend to have that every now and then but it’s almost every morning now. I wonder if it’s the N-A-C? If it is, is there a way to negate these effects? Is there a liposomal formal of NAC? I wouldn’t think a enteric coated version would help in this case. I believe NAC is helping with my insomnia (maybe lowering glutamate?) and with moods and inflammation so I’d hate to stop but the daily bowel issues is not good. I do have some other digestive issues and have been experimenting with Ox Bile, Betaine HCL, and Pancreatin. But, before going on NAC regularly and increasing my dose to 500MG I wasn’t having as many bowel issues like this. Anyway can a 500mg dose of NAC cause bowel issues?

  • Rosa

    I`ve heard interview with Dr. Mark Hayman, in which he said that NAC taken at the time of antibiotics treatment protecs mitochondria from damage. Any ideas about the dosage and timing (togeter with antibiotics or several hours away from it)?

  • An-Marie

    Is it true that NAC, if someone has mercury or other heavy metals in their body, it can actually drive the mercury deeper into the tissues and the brain if it’s used too early in a detoxification process, such as in a compromised gut ?

  • jamesbiehl

    I believe that NAC can raise histamine. It also may have some negative effects over 500mg. You can find more information, but here is a darn Mercola article (below). I believe it can also cause problems by chelating heavy metals.. Perhaps a good idea to also take some chlorella with the NAC, and keep the dose between 200-500mg once per day with breakfast.. I remember reading about a study people had on Longecity about the damage NAC could impose over 500mg. No link for that at the moment.

    Here is another study about long term low dose negative effects:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3913600/

  • anna burns

    I was considering supplementing with NAC, but when I began to look into it I saw that the supplements frequently oxidize. I would appreciate comments on this. I would like the benefits of
    NAC, but not if it is oxidized.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      I don’t think so

  • Jason West

    Bipolar depression and Major Depressive Disorder are very different illnesses. You should cite the Bipolar studies also, not only Major Depressive Disorder studies.

  • Ted Hu

    Does nac increase cysteine and up taurine vs glutathione for those with homozygous cbs A360A mutation? Or will it as one paper suggests curb thiol and cysteine levels.

  • Donita

    I believe NAC caused brain fog. About 4 – 6 weeks after starting it, daily with 16 oz of water, then breakfast, and substantial water all day, I started to feel sluggish, and about 3-4 days of that, I tried to tackle a common activity (genealogy research), and was confused and unable to proceed. I quit the NAC for several days, then started again, taking only 1 pill (250 mg I think) ONCE a week with evening meal. I may be receiving little or no benefit with such a low dose, but am continuing at this rate until I learn more.

    1. Astral Pharoh

      That’s because NAC lowers Glutamate. Glutamate is your main energizing neurotransmitter. With lower levels of Glutamate, your CNS is more sluggish. It does the same thing to me. It lowers Glutamate by converting it into glutathione…

      1. Adam Rankin

        I’ve read reviews where customers felt like they were thinking clearer and had more energy. So I’m wondering if they had to much Glutamate to begin with?

    2. Ann

      I used to feel the same in addition to feeling toxic and getting bad headaches until I started taking 200mcg selenium & Molybdenum with it!!
      All disappeared!
      Good luck

  • anna burns

    I know the benefits of NAC, and have tried several times to take it, but it makes me feel so bad, that I had to stop. Any ideas as to why that might be?

    1. Ted Hu

      I suspect if one has cbs mutation nac raises cysteine and taurine levels and with it sulfate and ammonia. While it helps mutate glutamate receptor excitability, it does not curb unregulated cbs enzymated transulfurstion pathway.

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